First Drive: Volkswagen’s Golf R returns as the all-weather warrior

Jack Evans, PA Motoring Reporter
·6-min read

What is it?

Volkswagen Golf R
Quad exhausts feature at the rear of the car


The previous-generation Volkswagen Golf R earned itself a serious reputation. Its all-weather ability, supercar-beating performance and everyday practicality meant that, to many, it was all the car you could’ve ever needed or wanted. So how do you replace such a car? That’s a challenge Volkswagen has had to tackle with this new version.

Underpinned by the latest eight-generation Golf platform, the new R has a crushing amount of expectation on its shoulders. So can it live up to the hype generated by the car it takes over from? We’ve been behind the wheel to find out.

What’s new?

Volkswagen Golf R
Alloy wheels sit in front of performance brakes


Needless to say, Volkswagen hasn’t allowed the R to rest on its laurels. Though many aspects are the same – there’s a 2.0-litre engine up front driving all four wheels as before – there have been some serious re-workings of the Golf’s fundamentals to ensure that it remains ahead of the game.

It also incorporates the latest Golf’s tech-heavy cabin, while its exterior boasts all of the styling touches that we’ve seen applied to the latest-generation version of the famous hatchback, albeit with some added performance tweaks to help differentiate the R from the rest of the range.

What’s under the bonnet?

Volkswagen Golf R
The 2.0-litre engine kicks out 316bhp


As highlighted earlier, the new R uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, mirroring the capacity that was found in the previous car. It is, in fact, fundamentally the same unit that powered the older R, albeit with some tweaks and revisions. It’s more powerful, too, bringing 316bhp and 420Nm of torque to the table, converted to the wheels via a seven-speed automatic gearbox.

It means that the R is quicker from 0-60mph, too, now taking just 4.5 seconds to hit the speed, while flat-out it’ll do 155mph. However, as before Volkswagen hasn’t lost sight of the R’s need to be used every day, which is why its economy figures aren’t too terrible; the firm claims 36.2mpg combined and CO2 emissions of 177g/km.

What’s it like to drive?

It’s worth getting something out of the way right from the start – the Golf R is now quicker than anyone reasonably needs a car to be on the public road. Given that it’ll now out-pace many far more flamboyant – and expensive – cars, the level of performance that the R delivers is nothing short of revolutionary. It’s backed by an all-wheel-drive system that keeps you on the straight and narrow – or clinging on through the bends – no matter the conditions.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

The most notable addition to the R’s setup is the inclusion of torque vectoring, which allows power to be split between the rear wheels for the first time, rather than just the front and back axle. It means the car will tighten its line far more easily than before when turning in, and even applying a decent boot of throttle mid-corner causes the car to squat and pull around the bend harder than ever, firing you out of the other side. It’s properly impressive and wonderfully easy to exploit – this isn’t a car you need to ‘learn’ in order to get the best from.

How does it look?

Volkswagen Golf R
The R is supremely capable no matter what the conditions


The previous generation Golf R was a masterclass in understated design and it has to be said it’s the same story again here. Sure, you still have the now de facto quad exhaust pipes which have become a Volkswagen R hallmark, but apart from that there’s not an awful lot to shout about just how quickly this car will go – it doesn’t even sound all that sporting, in truth.

It sits considerably lower than the regular car while ‘our’ car’s 18-inch diamond turned alloy wheels did give it a slightly more premium edge, but this is one under-the-radar car. If you’d like more flamboyance, then you can add a £2,000 ‘Performance Pack’, which brings features like a larger rear wing and bigger alloys.

What’s it like inside?

Volkswagen Golf R
The Golf’s interior is more tech-heavy than ever


We’ve already experienced the regular Golf’s interior and found it to be an extremely tech-heavy place to be. The R’s cabin is little different, albeit with the introduction of more sporty seats and a range of blue accents. It does, however, feel a touch too ‘normal’ for a car like this; we’d like to see just a little more excitement added into the mix, given just how exciting the powertrain running underneath the R is.

That said, the everyday fundamentals are done well. The material quality is largely on the money, while there’s a decent amount of space for those sitting in the back, too. Boot space is reasonable too, offering up 374 litres with the rear seats in place. You can increase it by folding those seats down, of course.

What’s the spec like?

Golf R
A new ‘R’ button on the steering wheel allows you to quickly change the car’s dynamic settings


Sitting atop the Golf range means that the R benefits from an impressive level of standard equipment. Prices start at just over £39,000, and for that, you get important performance aspects such as the torque vectoring system and sport suspension. ‘Our’ car came with optional Dynamic Chassis Control – priced at £300 – and this is something we’d highly recommend optioning if you’re purchasing an R. It allows you to vary the amount of support giving by the suspension and when put in ‘Comfort’ mode makes the car pliable enough to deal with the UK’s roads.

Elsewhere, standard-fit highlights include Volkswagen’s digital cockpit with configurable dials, a 10-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Matrix LED headlights. You’re unlikely to feel short-changed by the R’s level of standard equipment, that’s for sure.

Verdict

As we already mentioned, bringing in a replacement for the Golf R must’ve seemed like quite the challenge for Volkswagen. However, it has hit the nail on the head again; this is a fearsomely quick car that is both easy to live with and easy to get the best from, too. It’s almost unnervingly easy to drive, in fact.

It might not be the last word in driver involvement, but the older Golf R never was either. No, this is a car that provides all the performance you could want no matter the weather.

  • Model: Volkswagen Golf R

  • Base price: £39,270

  • Model as tested: Golf R

  • Price: £42,300

  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol

  • Power: 316bhp

  • Torque: 420Nm

  • Max speed: 155mph

  • 0-60mph: 4.5 seconds

  • MPG: 36.2

  • Emissions: 177g/km CO2